At the age of 75, Sylvester Stallone makes his TV series debut in Tulsa King as Dwight Manfredi, a mafia capo who spent 25 years in prison for murder rather than rolling on his mafia family.
What makes this Taylor Sheridan-created and Terence Winter-run series different is that it embraces the Stallone we’ve rarely seen, a funny and well-spoken intelligent man.
Even Stallone finds it refreshing that he’s been given this challenge to play someone much like himself, which he says is far more difficult than clamming up and using his machismo for movies he’s been known for, such as Rambo.
Tulsa King is a fish-out-of-water story. You either love them, or you hate them.
Lucky for me, I find seeing situations through fresh eyes to be utterly delightful, and Stallone is game for pretty much everything, at points playing for genuine laughs, introspective, philosophical dialogue, and ultimately tapping into genuine emotions.
Not everyone who spends 25 years in prison likely comes out as behind the times as Dwight, but instead of wasting time watching TV or reading about current events, he was reading the classics and learning about life and business principles, which help him understand people and drive business negotiations with the best.
The family he chose turned on him in the end, essentially banishing him to Tulsa under the guise of paving the way for new mafia territory. In reality, his old-school mafia ways no longer fit his chosen family. It certainly gives him pause that he chose them at the expense of his actual family, whom he hasn’t seen in 18 years.
Dwight wastes no time planting his flag in Tulsa, and before he arrives at his motel from the airport, he’s already got a driver, Tyson (Jay Will), who will show him the 2022 ropes.
Dwight is easygoing and makes friends everywhere he goes, some more willingly than others. He meets a lady his first night in town (Andrea Savage’s Stacy) and befriends the owner of the Bred2Buck Saloon (Garrett Hedlund).
In real life, people in the midwest might be put off by a man like Dwight, but in this fictional take, people gravitate toward him, even those he meets with a punch in the nose first and a handshake later.
Tulsa King Season 1 Episode 1 goes for genuine, gut-busting laughs, and it succeeds. It sets the tone that anything goes in this world and upends expectations of normal mob-related content.
The fun continues through the second episode, but we also get a feel for what Dwight isn’t showing everyone, the pain of being lost to civilization for a quarter of a century and regret for giving up on the people who once loved him.
Winter is known for The Sopranos and Boardwalk Empire, which leaned heavily on violence and didn’t flinch the bloodier it got. It’s still early in this show, but Stallone isn’t a young man, and he seems content playing a heavy who doesn’t have to get too bloody to make his point.
Dwight has learned enough about the human condition that he doesn’t need violence to reach people, although, in a pinch, a pop here and there is easy and effective.
After the success of Yellowstone, Sheridan-affiliated projects land impressive talent before and behind the camera.
Tulsa King appears to be a labor of love. Just watch the videos peppered throughout this review to get a feel for what has gone into the production.
Like Sheridan’s other productions, Tulsa King fully utilizes its setting, too. The series visits a variety of locations, even making good use of one of the local interests, the Center of the Universe, which is actually the title of Tulsa King Season 1 Episode 2.
After two episodes, Dwight has merely dipped his toes into what Tulsa has to offer. If the series continues on the trajectory paved during the first two hours, we’re going to be watching Tulsa King for a long time.
Stallone is comfortable in Dwight’s shoes. Playing a version of himself suits him, and it’s sure to hit home with viewers, as well.
Tulsa King premieres with two episodes on Sunday, November 11, on Paramount+.
Carissa Pavlica is the managing editor and a staff writer and critic for TV Fanatic. She’s a member of the Critic’s Choice Association, enjoys mentoring writers, conversing with cats, and passionately discussing the nuances of television and film with anyone who will listen. Follow her on Twitter and email her here at TV Fanatic.